The Russian dynamic duo spearheaded their country’s domination of the pool at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018, taking home seven medals each – six of them gold. Their performances at the YOG mark them out as athletes to watch at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. The same goes for the brilliant Hungarian Ajna Késely, who won three freestyle golds at the Olympic Park Swimming Centre.
Kliment Kolesnikov and Andrei Minakov reigned supreme in the pool at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. They both won six gold medals and one silver, while members of the Russian team ended up on the podium no less than 19 times in the men’s, women’s and mixed events during the six days of competition in the pool.
Kolesnikov set a new 50m backstroke world record of 24 minutes dead at the European Championships in Glasgow on 4 August 2018, so it was no great surprise that he went on to sweep the board in the 50m, 100m and 200m backstroke events. Meanwhile, Andrei Minakov blew everyone away with his stunning individual performances that earned him three gold medals. The duo then added to their medal haul by competing for Russia in all the relay finals.
In the 100m butterfly, 16-year-old Minakov set a new Russian record when he took gold in a time of 51.12 seconds. His time was actually 1.8 seconds faster than the best time set over that distance by American legend Michael Phelps at the same age. Phelps’ best time in 2001 was 52.98, but he was 18 before he bettered Minakov’s time (51.10). “I’m aware of it, but you can’t really compare us, because Michael Phelps is Michael Phelps and I’m me,” stressed Minakov, who was born on 17 March 2002. He was also victorious in the men's 50m butterfly and 100m freestyle events.
Now Minakov has set his sights on the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020. “We’ll be working towards it. Next year, I'll be trying to qualify for the World Championships so that I get a feel for the standard among the seniors, then I’ll be aiming for Tokyo 2020.”
The superb times set by Minakov and Kolesnikov in their specialist events set the stage for Russia to dominate the medley relay at the next Games. “We’re really lucky to have such strong teammates”, said Kolesnikov, adding that he will start thinking about his programme leading up to the Tokyo Games in the near future.
Russia's impressive medal haul included 13 individual medals, nine of them gold, and podium finishes in all six relays, including four victories. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) were allowed to send only four male and four female swimmers to the Youth Olympic Games. This meant swimmers sometimes had to be withdrawn from individual events in order to allow them to compete in the relays.
Italian swimmer Thomas Ceccon also was another star of the pool in Buenos Aires. He took gold in the men's 50m freestyle, silver in the 50m backstroke, qualified with the best semi-final time in the 50m butterfly (finishing fourth in the final) and won two more medals as part of the Italian relay team, swimming breaststroke in both medley events.
Kristóf Milák of Hungary also showed he was a swimmer to reckon with. He competed in seven events and won four individual medals, including golds in the 200m butterfly and the 200m and 400m freestyle events.
Pure gold from Seemanová and Késely
On 9 October, 18-year-old Czech Barbora Seemanová began with a convincing win in the blue riband event, the 100m freestyle. She beat China's Junxuan Yang and Slovenia's Neza Klancar in a time of 54.19. The Czech was delighted with her win: “It’s very important to me. I’m speechless,” she enthused. “I’m a Youth Olympic champion and that's an incredible feeling. This is my happiest moment of the last eight years.” She went on to secure a freestyle double by dominating the 50m event, winning in 25.14 seconds, and then took her third individual medal with a bronze in the 200m freestyle.
Argentina's local hero, Delfina Narello Pignatiello won everyone’s heart when she took silver in the 800m freestyle, which she dedicated to her grandmother who died a week before the start of the Games. She also finished second in the 400m freestyle. On both occasions she was runner-up to Hungary's Ajna Késely, who pulled off a magnificent rare treble by also taking gold in the 200m freestyle.
The freestyle specialist from Budapest already has a list of titles as long as her arm. She is not only the reigning World Junior champion at 400m, but also took no fewer than 15 golds at the 2016, 2017 and 2018 European Junior Championships. Two months before the YOG, she took part in the senior European Championships in Glasgow, where she won two silver medals (400m and 800m) and one bronze (1,500m).
Aged just 14, Késely had already competed for Hungary at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, where she swam in two events but failed to reach a final. There’s no doubt she’s another one to watch in Tokyo in two years’ time.
Backstroke specialist Kaylee McKeown from Australia also had a stand-out Games, winning gold in the 50m, silver in the 100m and a bronze in the 200m. She also took silver in the women’s 4x100m medley relay. After her victory in the 50m, the 17-year-old commented: “It’s really not very often you get to experience a Youth Olympic Games, so to come here and be with Australians and cheer on my teammates is something spectacular that I’m just going to cherish for the rest of my life. It’s just about whoever swims best on the day.”